I am at the Republican National Convention, and though I am a staunch Democrat who’s possibly even further to the left of Dennis Kucinich, I decided that I must immerse myself in real GOP Culture and not just hang out with unwashed lefty anarchists. Of course, the most painless way to do this for a Democrat such as myself is to spend some time getting used to the Other Side with a contingent I’m very familiar and comfortable with: The Gays, or in this case, the Log Cabin Republicans. Yes, Dorothy, there are Gay Republicans. And no, we’re not in Kansas, anymore.
I told Log Cabin Communications Director Scott Tucker that my friends were perplexed by Log Cabin Republicans’ very existence, as was I. He didn’t miss a beat. “Did they look at you like you had three heads?”
Yes they did. And if you were wondering, Tucker and his fellow Republicans don’t have three heads, either. I spoke with him after their “Big Tent” classy lunch, where all the attendees sat at white tableclothed tables eating fine fare while us journos stood in the back looking like disheveled cattle. He explained that they were endorsing Senator John McCain because they believe he will be an “inclusive” president. They declined, after George W. Bush started a stampede on gay rights with the Federal Marriage Amendment, to endorse W. He said of McCain, “We have a relationship going back with McCain to the early 1990s. Sen McCain stood with us on the Fed Marriage Amendment twice and he stood on the floor with us in 2006 and gave a very impassioned speech about that amendment, calling it antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans.”
The core philosophy is what might make even certain Dems wistful for the days of Alex P. Keaton. Remember when Republicans were mostly about spending money responsibly, smaller, less intrusive government, and strong national defense—and not about Bible thumping yahoos? After W., it’s hard to remember, but you have to reach back before the Reagan years. It was during those years that the Republican party rounded up the right-wing religious fanatics, the James Dobsons and Jerry Falwells of the world, cherry picking certain social issues that had previously belonged to the Dems—like abortion, and now gay rights—to drive a wedge right through the center. ( A good primer on this is the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Haynes Johnson’s book, Sleepwalking Through HIstory: America in the Reagan Years.)
“I would argue the Ronald Reagan never used these issues himself,” said Tucker. That’s the party Tucker and the Log Cabin Republicans hope to bring back: “The way I look at it is those people are going to leave this party before I do,” he said of the extremist factions.
In 2006, she struck down a bill that would have denied benefits to gay state employees, but only on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. Still, the eminently quotable Tucker couldn’t really suss out Palin, and left the unflappable flack a little tongue-tied. “Gov. Palin’s positions on gay and lesbian issues is largely unclear,” (nope, they are not, see above), he said and didn’t directly address her support of the ban in 1998.
Even with all their strides, it’s not easy being gay in the GOP. He beamed with pride talking about how 49% of the GOP delegates support civil unions and/or gay marriage, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll, (“That’s half of Republican delegates! These are party faithful, party activists!” he said, hopefully) and noted that during their open booth at the Civic Fest in the hours they were there, and out of the hundreds of people they talked to, only two people said, “Read your Bible,” before walking away. On the battleground front, there’s more work to be done: “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell looks to be on its last legs, and with Cali Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vocally against the Prop 8 ballot initiative, which would overturn the state’s Supreme Court decision recognizing gay marriages, the gays have come a long way, baby.
Tucker allowed that they have “some disagreements with Sen McCain related to gay rights. The employment non-discrimination act, McCain doesn’t support.” And he admits, “Senator Obama has promised a lot of wonderful things. If you’re looking at the very narrow prism of the very specific gay and lesbian rights issues, we’re not going to argue that Republicans are better than Democrats—we never have. Democrats have come farther than Republicans on gay rights issues, if you’re looking at that — quote, unquote — scorecard of issues.”
Still, Tucker points out that Dems are no great shakes, either, especially Donkey rock star, Bill Clinton, who signed both “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and the “Defense of Marriage Act,” into law. “He was a great disappointment for the LGBT community,” said Tucker. “A Democratic president signed two pieces of legislation that the gay and lesbian community spends most of their money and time fighting and trying to overturn.”
If you’re wondering why they insist on working for a party that largely hates them, Tucker explains their Sysyphean battle thus: “We want to get our party more inclusive on these issues. And we have to come further on these issues otherwise we’ll be on the wrong side of history if we don’t.”